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First a quiet click can be heard, and then the hotel room door opens as if by magic. The light comes on automatically, bathing the unfamiliar room in warm light. Something can be seen flashing on the mirror: a digital calendar opens and displays upcoming personal appointments over the next few days. Exhausted after a long journey, the guest collapses into bed. Outside it’s freezing, but the bed has been pre-heated so it is cosy and warm under the duvet. A tablet lies on the bedside table – a few quick swipes of the finger is all that is needed to display the hotel bar’s entire menu. One more click and dinner is ordered; a short time later it will be served in the room.

A laboratory for the hotel of the future

room lighting will adapt to the time of day in the hotel of the future.

This may be how we experience hotel stays in the future. Since 2008, the Fraunhofer IAOhas been working with numerous partners in the hotel industry to devise ideas and concepts for the hotel of the future in its “FutureHotel” project. In the institute’s in-house “Urban Living Lab”, the researchers have built a model hotel in which they are putting many of their ideas to the test. Particularly promising technologies and concepts are then trialled in a real hotel in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

“The most important trend is towards digitization and automation”, says IAO project leader Vanessa Borkmann. This can relate for example to all kinds of processes – booking of a hotel room, check-in and check-out, or personnel planning. Intelligent fixtures and furnishings in the hotel room are also an important issue, however.

An end to queuing at reception?

If the researchers have their way, some hotels may soon do away with their reception desks altogether. Using a digital app the scientists have developed, hotel guests will be able to reserve a specific hotel room before they arrive, just as they select their seat on an aeroplane: one with a sea view, perhaps, or out to the back or looking out over the roofs of the city. Once the room has been booked, an access code for the room is sent automatically to the guest’s smartphone, so there is no need to check in at reception. The access authorization expires automatically at a certain time on check-out day, so the guest leaves the hotel without having ever approached a reception desk.

Smart furniture and mattresses

The hotel room of the future will also conceal a whole host of smart solutions. Vanessa Borkmann and her colleagues are working for example on a lighting system that will adjust to the time of day or night. “Sensors can be installed in the bed or floor so as to detect for instance if the guest gets up in the night to go to the bathroom. As bright light would immediately wake up the guest, subtle lighting on the floor shows them the way”, explains the project leader. Since every guest wants to sleep as peacefully as possible, the bed plays a key role in the “FutureHotel”. “It can be equipped with all kinds of technology”, says Borkmann, going on to explain that it is conceivable that mattresses could be heated or cooled or have their hardness adjusted to the guest’s sleeping habits.

Talking mirrors, digital room service

“Bathrooms will see a lot of changes in future”, predicts Vanessa Borkmann confidently. The fifth phase of the “FutureHotel” project will begin in April 2016, with the Fraunhofer IAO and its partners then focusing particularly on solutions for the “hotel bathroom of 2030”. “Bathrooms will become more spacious and comfortable”, says Borkmann. The Fraunhofer researchers plan to incorporate a display into the bathroom mirror which will allow hotel guests to check their e-mails, read the latest news or talk to their families on the phone while shaving.

Vanessa Borkmann sees no future for the minibar, however, claiming that it wastes too much electricity and can easily be replaced: the hotel bar’s entire range could be listed on a tablet which guests could use to place their orders quickly and easily.

How can hotel rooms be designed to consume less energy?

The matter of energy efficiency is of key importance as far as the Fraunhofer researchers are concerned. Vanessa Borkmann and her colleagues believe that digitization will allow an entire new approach to facility management. “If for example the hotel’s internal booking process is linked to its heating and ventilation system, it is much easier to plan when to start heating a guest room”, explains the project leader. Individual guest data – such as the time of arrival at the airport for instance – can likewise be taken into account.

The guest is paramount

But is this actually what guests want? Do they want to have their location constantly revealed and to be surrounded by numerous sensors in their rooms? This is also something that the Fraunhofer researchers are finding out together with their partners – by asking hotel guests in studies. For example, they are currently conducting a survey (only in German) among hotel guests to identify the criteria for a successful spa centre in a hotel. Ultimately, it will in any case be the guests themselves who have the last word – as no tablet can decide for them where to book.


The “FutureHotel” project

What will hotels be like in the future? This is something that the Fraunhofer IAO is researching together with business partners from the hotel industry within the framework of its “FutureHotel” innovation network. The partners are studying key issues and devising concepts and solutions for the hotel of the future.